Written by: Juliann Scholl
Updated March 17, 2021
About 23% of people (1) exercise at night, within 4 hours of going to bed. Experts used to caution (2) against exercising before bed, with the idea being that exercise energized your body, raising your body temperature (3) and making it harder to fall asleep. However, emerging research suggests that evening exercise does not necessarily lead to worse sleep.
In fact, some exercises may actually help you sleep better, enabling you to let go of stress, relieve tension, and relax your muscles before bed.
What Are the Best Exercises to Do Before Bed?
Even though some studies have found that vigorous high-intensity exercise (4) doesn’t impact sleep, bedtime probably isn’t the best time to work on marathon training. You might have an easier time falling asleep if you stick to light- or moderate-intensity workouts around bedtime, and leave the heavy weightlifting or cardio for the daytime.
Low-intensity workouts, like yoga and stretching, shouldn’t negatively affect your sleep. Even 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise (5) — like swimming, walking, biking, or light resistance training — is okay, as long as you finish your workout at least 90 minutes before bed. The more vigorous your workout, and the closer it is to bedtime, the more likely it is to impact your sleep and lead to nighttime awakenings. If you can, put time between your workout and your bedtime, especially if you’re engaging in vigorous exercise.
The best workouts to do before bed include yoga, stretching, and relaxation exercises. Here are ten exercises you can do before sleep.
Standing Forward Fold
Standing forward fold is a gentle stretching pose common to hatha and restorative yoga. These types of yoga encourage you to focus on your breath as you stretch, creating a meditative state that promotes relaxation and realignment of the skeletal muscles (6). In studies of cancer survivors, these yoga practices improved sleep quality and daytime functioning, while reducing mid-night awakenings.
- Stand tall with your feet about hips-width apart and your hands by your sides. Relax your shoulders.
- Using your abdominal muscles, slowly bend forward. Visualize bending one vertebra at a time.
- Keep bending forward until you reach a comfortable stretch. Then, let your arms and head dangle toward the floor, breathing deeply and slowly, in and out. If you can, touch the ground with your palms or fingers and hold for a few seconds.
- Keeping your abdominal muscles engaged, reverse and roll back up, again one vertebra at a time.
Planks can improve your posture and spinal alignment (7) by strengthening your core and the rest of your body. Planks are part mental, part physical. Performing this challenging stretch before bed can help you unwind by giving your mind a single thing to focus on.
- Get into a plank position. This can resemble the “up” position of a push-up, with your hands on the floor shoulder-width apart, and your legs and toes in a straight line behind you. For more intensity, you can lower onto your forearms.
- Roll your shoulders down and back, and maintain a straight line from your head to your heels. Activate your core and your glutes to prevent sagging and relieve stress from the lower back.
- Keep your breathing steady and hold for 30 to 60 seconds.
Glute bridge is an Iyengar yoga pose that activates your core, back, and gluteal muscles in a low-impact way. Iyengar yoga (8) has been shown to improve sleep quality and mood, while reducing insomnia, anxiety, stress, and blood pressure.
- Lie on your back with your feet flat on the floor and your arms by your side. Then, bend your knees until you can just barely touch your heels with the tips of your fingers.
- Inhale and slowly lift your hips until your knees form a straight line with your glutes.
- Pause at the top, and then slowly dip back down, keeping your hips an inch or so above the floor. Complete 15 to 30 repetitions.
The bird dog stretch strengthens your core and your back, promoting proper spinal alignment and a more comfortable night’s sleep.
- Form a tabletop position, with your wrists under your shoulders and your knees directly below your hips. Your back should be straight.
- Roll your shoulders down and back, and activate your core.
- Slowly straighten your right arm and left leg at the same time, while keeping your back straight and hips square to the floor. Once your leg and arm reach a parallel position to the floor, stop and hold for a few seconds.
- Slowly return to the tabletop position.
- Repeat with the opposite leg and arm (left arm and right leg). Repeat for 10 sets.
Child’s pose is a relaxing pose that relieves tension in your back and hips, while stretching out your upper arms and torso. This pose promotes alignment and relaxation.
- Kneel on the floor with your feet pointed and tucked under your glutes.
- Spread your knees.
- Inhale and stretch your palms forward along the floor, letting your arms and torso fall to the floor while your glutes and hips stretch back.
- Focus on breathing in and out slowly as you sink deeper into the stretch. Hold for 30 to 60 seconds.
Another variation of this pose is to keep your knees together and fold forward over them. Instead of stretching your arms out in front, drape them around the sides of your thighs with your palms facing up. Try both variations and see what feels more restorative for you.
Legs Up the Wall Pose
This bedtime stretch passively activates your core, letting the blood drain from your legs as you refresh your circulatory system. It’s another pose common to Iyengar yoga, a practice designed to relieve pain and tension from a sedentary lifestyle while improving flexibility.
- Sit on the floor close to a wall. Lie on your back and push your glutes close to the wall so you can lift your legs and rest the backs of your legs flat against the wall.
- Stretch your hands out along your sides with your palms turned up. Hold for 10 to 30 seconds.
The figure-four stretch stretches your lower back, hips, and glutes, releasing tension that builds up from sitting all day.
- Lie on your back with your feet on the floor and your knees bent, similar to your starting position for the glute bridge.
- Cross your left ankle over your right knee. Then, place your hand on your right knee or thigh, wherever feels most comfortable.
- Pull your right leg toward you until you feel a stretch in your left hip. For more intensity, extend your right leg up in the air as you keep pulling your leg toward you. Hold for 30 seconds.
- Slowly release your legs and repeat on the other side.
Seated Forward Fold
Like the standing forward fold, this yoga pose helps you stretch out your back and hamstrings, two places where tension can build. Focus on your breathing and let yourself relax as you stretch, improving alignment.
- Sit on the floor with your legs together and stretched straight out in front of you.
- Bend your torso forward and reach for your toes until you feel a stretch in your hamstrings. Hold for 30 seconds.
This stretch relieves pressure in your neck, lower back, and even your hips. It can be beneficial to sink deeply into this pose, allowing the stretch to realign your spine and relax your mind.
- Lie on your back. Pull your knees in toward your chest and give them a hug.
- Let go of your knees and stretch your arms out to each side, so they form a straight line.
- Let your knees fall to the right and stack your left knee on top of your right knee. Keep your arms and shoulders flat against the floor. For more intensity, you can extend your left leg out to the side, and pull it down with your right hand. Hold for 30 seconds.
- Slowly return your knees to the center and repeat on the other side.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Progressive muscle relaxation (9) is a beneficial exercise to do once you’re in bed and ready for sleep. This technique is so effective that it’s commonly recommended to individuals with insomnia, enabling them to fall asleep quicker, and stay asleep longer.
- Lie on your back with your arms and legs stretched out in a comfortable position.
- Curl your toes for a few seconds, then release.
- Tense your calf muscles for a few seconds, then release.
- Tense your upper leg muscles, then release.
- Continue working upward through each muscle group in your body, tensing for a few seconds before releasing, until you reach your shoulders.
A regular exercise routine can increase the quality of your sleep, and makes it easier to relax into slumber. Trying these stretches before bed may help you improve your sleep.
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